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ICC Cricket World Cup 2023: Indian immortality or a golden Australian treble awaits

Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins with World Cup trophy
India are aiming for a third 50-over World Cup title while Australia are going for their sixth
Venue: Ahmedabad Date: Sunday, 19 November Time: 08:30 GMT
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. The website and app will also have live text commentary and in-play video clips (UK users only)

Australia know what is coming.

Sunday marks 45 days since this long and winding World Cup began and it was always supposed to lead to this – India in the final of their own tournament at the world’s largest cricket stadium in front of 100,000 fans.

Their prime minister Narendra Modi, who this huge arena in his hometown of Ahmedabad is named after, will be in attendance.

India have been all-conquering throughout this tournament with 10 wins from 10 matches.

An 11th will secure their third World Cup title, yet their first since 2011, and crown them the first unbeaten champions since the great Australians in 2007.

With each of those commanding wins, excitement has built across India to the point of blue-shirted fans chanting “India jeetega” [India will win] as they arrived in the city’s airport on Friday.

Hotel prices in the city have more than doubled and the roads are expected to be in gridlock on Sunday morning.

Twenty-four hours before the toss, the hectic streets around the stadium are already buzzing, with counterfeit, replica India shirts available at every turn, as they were when the Modi Stadium hosted India’s thrashing of Pakistan earlier in this tournament.

Australia may not be a great political and sporting rival, but the atmosphere on Sunday will still be similarly partisan.

“I think you’ve got to embrace it,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Saturday morning.

“The crowd’s obviously going to be very one-sided, but in sport there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s the aim for us tomorrow.

“You just can’t get overwhelmed.

“You have got to be up for it, you’ve got to love it and just know whatever happens it’s fine.”

In his pre-match news conference, India captain Rohit Sharma managed to stay calm amid the chaos of a packed room, with 35 minutes of questioning and endless interruptions by mobile phones.

“The biggest challenge for professional athletes is how you can put all this aside and focus on your work,” he said, when asked about the pressure of ending India’s 12-year wait for a top-tier white-ball trophy.

“Being an Indian cricketer, you have to deal with pressure.”

Despite India’s dominance, this final still has its uncertainties.

Six weeks ago many expected England to be here again before their era of white-ball dominance went up in smog.

Instead, England fans are left having to choose between cricket’s ever-advancing superpower or their oldest enemy, and there remains a feeling that Australia are the team India did not want to face.

The Australians are, after all, going for their sixth World Cup – four more than anyone else. Allan Border, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and the other Australian greats are revered here almost as much as in their home country.

Australia won the World Test Championship final against India earlier this year and won when the sides met in the final of the 2003 edition of this tournament.

There are other reasons for India to be wary.

Six weeks ago when these two teams began their World Cup campaigns against each other in Chennai, India eased to a six-wicket win.

Still, there was just enough in that game to give Australia some hope.

They reduced their hosts to 2-3 in the second over of their pursuit and it would have been 19-4 had Mitchell Marsh not dropped Virat Kohli on 12.

Kohli capitalised on the reprieve and scored 85 in a match-winning partnership of 165 with KL Rahul, who ended 97 not out.

“I don’t think we scored par in that first game but we’re one catch away from potentially being in front of that game,” said Cummins, whose side have won eight matches in a row since another defeat in their second game against South Africa.

“We won an ODI series here early on in the year [a 2-1 win in March].

“There’s lots of moments we can draw on where we’ve had success against a really good Indian side.”

Kohli, meanwhile, has used his tournament to ensure his name still shines bright among the Diwali lights.

He has so far scored 711 runs at an average of 101.57 in 10 matches including three centuries, the latest being his record-breaking 50th in one-day internationals in a memorable semi-final on Wednesday.

Kohli’s challenge now is to lift himself once more and do it against one of his toughest foes in Josh Hazlewood.

The Australian seamer has dismissed him five times for 51 runs in eight ODIs – one of a number of battles that could decide the destination of the trophy.

Rohit’s record against left-arm pace is much discussed – Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi dismissed him in the 2021 T20 World Cup and this year’s Asia Cup – and Australia have a threat of their own in Mitchell Starc.

Australia’s success, meanwhile, has come from big runs at the top of the order – Glenn Maxwell’s sensational double century against Afghanistan aside.

But David Warner, who has already scored two hundreds and another two fifties in this tournament, has been dismissed three times in 10 matches against India seamer Mohammed Shami.

An Australia victory would give Warner and six others – Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, Maxwell, Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh – a second World Cup crown, while Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin are the only survivors from India’s 2011 win.

India’s players can seal cricketing immortality by winning a home World Cup, while the Australians could take a leaf out of Manchester City’s book with a famous 2023 treble.

Becoming 50-over world champions in the same year they were crowned world Test champions and retained the Ashes urn in England would complete a successful 12 months.

Off the field, the final will surely go to script.

On it, we know what to expect but we still do not know what will happen for certain.

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